July 10, 2020

A Repugnant Cause

By Stephen Tuttle | June 20, 2020

It was a flag of treason waved by traitors. It's hard to see it any other way.  

The Confederate battle flag is an endangered species headed for public extinction. The Navy, Marines, and even NASCAR have already banned its public display. Others will soon follow. 

Statues of Confederate generals are coming down, and it's likely U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals will eventually be renamed.  

We're told all of these things — the flag, the generals, and the names of the bases — are part of the “proud cultural heritage” or “proud history” of the South. There may be much for which the South can be proud, but an armed insurrection against the United States that ended up killing as many as 700,000 is not one of those points of pride.

And the descendants of the 3.5 million slaves in the Confederacy have an entirely different view of that history. 

We're also told the South seceded for a variety of reasons other than slavery. There was a 10th Amendment states’ rights argument, and South Carolina believed it had a constitutional right to secede because the federal government was no longer abiding by agreements it had made with the state.

Unfortunately, South Carolina’s biggest point of contention was the northern states' refusal to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. And it made no secret of its real purpose in explaining its Declaration of Secession. The declaration, South Carolina said, was due to “ ... increasing hostility on the part of non-slaveholding states to the Institution of Slavery ... ” (Their capital letters.)  

It should be noted that slavery was not a singularly southern problem in our country's history. Ten of our first 12 presidents were slaveholders, and eight of them continued to keep slaves while in office. Only John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams escaped the ignominy of slaveholding. Both Washington and Jefferson — half of Mount Rushmore — were slaveholders while in office. The faces on our one dollar, two dollar, and 20 dollar bills were all slaveholders; Alexander Hamilton, on the $10, didn't own slaves himself, though he did help his wife's family buy and sell them.   

But slavery was largely abolished, or on its way to being abolished, in the North by 1804. And none of the above-mentioned presidents ultimately betrayed their country in service to slavery. 

The Confederate flag now waved so proudly didn't even exist until March of 1861. It was created for an armed rebellion. Apologists for the Confederacy can make whatever argument they want; their war was to protect their right to own human beings.  

There is no doubt many Confederate soldiers fought bravely, even heroically, and there is no doubt some of their leaders were expert strategists and tacticians. Most, on either side, weren't fighting for ideology but to survive, to kill someone roughly their own age they don't know because that person was trying to kill them.

But the leaders who started the mess and encouraged others to rally behind that flag did so for a cause that was immoral from the start. It's hard to see how there's any pride in that.

The statues have already begun toppling. One especially egregious example is statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, in Memphis, including his bust at the Statehouse. Forrest was a  Confederate general who led a massacre of African American troops and later was the First Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Not really the stuff of heroes. 

There are 10 U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals. There's Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Fort A.P. Hill, Camp Beauregard, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Lee, and Fort Pickett. What they all have in common is they all fought against the United States, and they all lost, which is an odd combination for naming rights to a U.S. military base.

Fort Pickett, named after General George Pickett, is a National Guard installation in Virginia. The government's choice in name is especially mysterious. Pickett was one of the architects responsible for a futile and bloody charge up a hillside on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Rebel troops suffered 50 percent casualties during the lunacy now known as Pickett's Charge.

And it's absurd to suggest changing the names of bases somehow disrespects the men and women who have trained and served there and are still training and serving there. It does nothing to diminish the quality of the training, readiness, or equipment.

The South seceded to protect slavery and then attacked the United States to protect slavery. The Confederate flag represents that grotesque institution, Confederate generals represent that grotesque institution, and bases named after Confederate generals represent that grotesque institution. 

The history of that war, more researched and written about than any other, is secure in literature and museums. We need not further honor those who fought against us for a repugnant cause.  


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